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Why Protein?

The role protein plays in your fitness gains.

A few years ago all you heard was how bad fat was. Then carbs got the bad rap. Current trends are now focusing on what’s good for you. These days all you hear about is how good protein is for weight loss, health, and fitness.

Protein shakes, protein bars, protein powders. What’s the big deal about protein these days? Will filling up on protein before or after your workout really improve your performance, help you lose weight, and gain muscle? Keep reading to learn the role protein plays in health and fitness.

What Is Protein?

One of the three macronutrients, protein is made of chains of amino acids. Your body breaks down the chains to be used by the body for energy, building muscle, forming cells, maintaining electrolytes, and producing hormones. Because the body doesn’t store protein, it constantly needs to be replenished through nutritious foods.

Protein is found in animal food sources such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Plant foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, and grains are also rich in protein.

How It Works

Unfortunately, many people have the misconception that eating animal protein such as steak, bacon, and eggs will turn into strong, toned muscles. Eating more protein, however, does not equal bigger muscles. Animal amino acids are different from those found in humans. To make use of animal or plant protein, your body must break down the protein into usable amino acid chains. Muscle gains come from a combination of exercise and balanced nutrition that contains a proper amount of protein.

Timing Is Important

Carbs plus a moderate amount of protein are recommended for energy to fuel exercise, but protein is most beneficial when eaten after a challenging workout. Intense exercise leads to small tears in muscle tissue. The body uses the protein you eat to help repair this damage. It’s during this recovery period that muscles grow and strengthen.

Plan to eat a high-protein meal or snack an hour or two after your cardio or strength training workout to experience the greatest muscle rewards. It’s in this window of time when your muscles crave the power of protein to repair damage. Great examples of post-workout protein-packed snacks include a protein shake, Greek yogurt with fruit, whole grain crackers and cheese, or apple slices with peanut butter.

How Much?

As with all good things, it’s possible to over-do it when it comes to protein. Remember, eating more protein won’t make you stronger. Consume too much protein and you could wind up putting unwanted strain on your kidneys. Eat too many animal sources of protein (steaks, bacon, sausages), and you’ll be working your way toward heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

People who don’t exercise should eat at least 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram they weigh. Healthy adults seeking to lose weight and build muscle through diet and exercise should eat 0.8 to 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of bodyweight. Women engaging in intense exercise to get strong and toned should bump up their protein intake to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight and men in the same category should aim to get 1.5 grams of protein for every kilogram they weigh.

Not sure how to calculate how many grams of protein you should eat each day? Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then multiply that answer by the number of grams listed above.